Mon, Feb 13, 2023 9:03 AM

Quiet achievers continuing the logging and milling tradition.




In past generations the timber milling industry, on the Westcoast of the South Island was all classed as extractive. Now days there’s a big focus on sustainability. Westco Lumber, employs around seventy-five staff making it a significant employer for the region.  The company processes local, sustainably produced pinus radiata, supplying both local and overseas markets bringing economic benefit while continuing the West Coast tradition of logging and milling timber.

Celia Kerr, whose job is log purchasing for Westco Lumber showed us around the plant.   “The plant might look old and worn, but it works, plus it’s up to the job.”

The team here are experts at what they do without them she says there would be no Westco. “The men here turn out a top-quality product.”

Celia sources pinus radiata locally on the West Coast, north and south Canterbury, Nelson, and Marlborough.  In general, she says she looks for large well-tended logs with a diameter of 45cm+ and low pith proportion that are free from pockets of resin and blue stain which spoil the timber.

She loves the job and says balancing the in-flow of logs that meet company criteria and keeping the mill team in work can worry her at times, especially when suitable logs are hard to find.  On our tour around the factory, we meet the team. Celia proudly shares with us the talents of every individual. We met ‘Bushy’ the independent scaling and measuring contractor, mouse and creamy who operate the saw milling machines plus the whole team involved in the process.

Celia explains how they sort the milled lengths into grade, size, and length.  Every log is tagged before milling then she can trace each plank back to the original forest.

Each batch of logs is studied to ascertain how much of the log is utilised. 50% is good, just recently they had a batch which made 61.9% utilisation which is excellent.

Finally, we meet the men pulling lengths of timber off the line, Celia tells us this job is physically hard. The men do it all day which keeps them extremely fit. During a cheerful exchange of banter, we make our way out to where the stacks of timber are dispatched and filleted. At this point they are either sent to the drying sheds or to Christchurch for treating where they can be sold locally for housing or exported overseas.

Celia says there is little waste everything is used the bark goes to a landscaper, the saw dust is used in the boiler and any leftover scraps are picked up by local community for craft work or as kindling firewood for the elderly. Westco she says is a true community focused operation quietly achieving good outcomes for everyone.

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